There’s a new, high-tech coffee shop about to open multiple stores in Boston — and its founders think they can replace your morning coffee routine.
With small storefronts and specialized robotic coffee machines, Blank Street Coffee wants to be the most convenient specialty coffee shop in town — all with prices lower than its competitors. The Brooklyn-based startup, which launched in August 2020 and is backed by prominent investors, plans to open four locations in Boston this year, starting in Beacon Hill on Thursday and then expanding to Back Bay and South Boston next month.
Cofounders Issam Freiha and Vinay Menda started Blank Street because they noticed specialty coffee shops, like Blue Bottle and Intelligentsia, were growing, but for their daily cups of coffee, most consumers still frequented brands like Dunkin’ and Starbucks because they were cheaper and more convenient.
Freiha and Menda believed good-tasting, quality coffee didn’t have to come at a premium price. Their business model is based on operating small-format stores in urban neighborhoods and office districts.
At around 400 to 500 square feet, these stores are 75 percent smaller than traditional cafes and don’t have any tables or chairs.
Inside, Blank Street doesn’t look like a typical coffee shop — the baristas don’t pull espresso shots or froth milk. Instead, Blank Street buys automated espresso machines, from the Swiss company Eversys, which make lattes and cappuccinos with whole and oat milk.
“You’re able to make the entire drink at the click of a button,” Freiha said.
This is intended to give baristas more time to build relationships with customers; only one or two are needed to run each store. The machines also make coffee faster than human baristas, helping the company reduce wait time for customers. Customers can pay and order ahead with the Blank Street mobile app.
At $3.75, Blank Street says its 12-ounce latte is roughly 25 percent less expensive than what other specialty coffee brands charge. (In Boston, George Howell Coffee on Washington Street charges $5.25 for a latte, and Ogawa Coffee on Milk Street charges $5.75.)
The promise of tech-enabled, premium coffee at an affordable price was attractive to investors, who have poured $67 million into the startup. Last October, Blank Street raised $25 million in a round led by General Catalyst and Tiger Global and then raised another $35 million three months later.
Youngme Moon, a Harvard Business School professor who sits on the board of Blank Street, said the company’s cafes are “equipped for a world in which most people are walking in, getting their drinks, and leaving immediately, and yet don’t want to give up quality and a beautiful brand aesthetic.”
She said Blank Street does a “hundred little things” differently than other coffee shops to reduce costs, “meaningfully changing” the economics of operating one.
Instead of mass manufacturing its own baked goods, for example, Blank Street partners with local businesses to sell items like cookies and croissants. In Boston, it will partner with Salem-based bakery A&J King.
As consumer habits change, more coffee chains are focusing on mobile orders and opening pick-up-only stores. At the start of the pandemic, Starbucks accelerated plans to open more “Starbucks Pickup” stores in US cities and now has three in Massachusetts: in Cambridge, Boston, and Medford.
Though coffee shops used to be designed so that people could stay for hours working, studying, or socializing, Blank Street’s cofounders think younger coffee drinkers want something different.
“We realized, especially in the pandemic, a lot of our customers were people who drank coffee on the go,” Menda said.
The founders believe their brand will be most appealing to Gen Z and millennial customers who buy coffee on the way to class or work. Their first Boston store is located across the street from Massachusetts General Hospital in a former juice bar, at 282 Cambridge St..
In September, Blank Street plans to open two additional cafes, at 647 Boylston St. in Back Bay and 489 East Broadway in South Boston. In October, the company will open a second Beacon Hill location in the former Starbucks space on Charles Street.
Blank Street, which does not disclose its revenue or profitability numbers, has about 70 corporate employees and 300 baristas. The company has around 30 locations in New York City and plans to reach 100 there by the end of the year.
Anissa Gardizy can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @anissagardizy8 and on Instagram @anissagardizy.journalism.